Arguably Romania’s most beautiful city, the vast architectural heritage of Sibiu is the result of different cultures. The former center of Transylvanian Saxons is today an important cultural and tourist center. Sections of the Old City Wall still surround the medieval city center, which is divided into the Upper Town and the Lower Town. In the Middle Ages, Saxon (German) settlers built several merchant houses within the walls. Plenty of old churches, cute historical houses and narrow alleys complete the feast.
Romanian buses are unreliable
It took us a long day of hitchhiking to get to Sibiu. We entered Romania via Timisoara where we spent a couple of days. After Timisoara we wanted to explore Transylvania, continuing our route to Sibiu. Though we found several bus connections online, when we arrived at the station there were no buses at all, so we had to hitchhike. It took us three hours for a car to stop and take us to Deva, and then just a few minutes for a pickup truck to Sibiu. The whole experience was brilliant, chatting with both drivers and enjoying great views. Completely exhausted, but happy, we arrived to Sibiu late that evening. After a brief moment to recover, we dashed to a local bar to celebrate our adventure. We had made it so we deserved a beer! Ok, more than one beer.
Staying in a historical building
Our initial plan was to book a room in the famous Old Town Hostel (now City Stay Hostel) on the Small Square. It was the best ranked accommodation at the time and had wonderful double rooms with bathroom for a very affordable price. Unfortunately, it was fully booked. The only other option was the Felinarul Hostel, equally beautiful but with no en suite bathrooms. I simply do not like sharing bathrooms, sorry. However, traveling is all about adjusting and to me as an architect, staying in a historical building is a must, so we booked it anyway. The place was amazing and everything was perfect, except for the cute dog constantly biting our feet.
Highlights of the Upper Town
We spent two days exploring Sibiu’s wonderful Old Town. Sibiu was the European Capital of Culture in 2007 so all of its buildings were fully restored. The city’s highlights are its three main squares: Piața Mare (Big market square), Piața Mică (Small square), and Piaţa Huet (Hayes square). In fact, the majority of important buildings are around the three. We climbed the tall Council Tower (Turnul Sfatului) on The Big Square and enjoyed unobstructed views of the city. We spent time on the same square admiring the lavishly decorated façades of Sibiu’s City Hall, Brukenthal Palace and the Roman Catholic Church.
The less visited Lower Town
After spending the first day in the Upper Town, we took the Stairs Passage (Pasajul Scarilor) to the Lower Town. The north side of the Lower Town is crisscrossed by cobbled streets and surrounded by cute historical houses, perfect to walk about. On the other hand, the southern part has a beautiful park and medieval towers. There’s even a large portion of the medieval city walls with four of the original towers: Harquebusiers’ Tower (Turnul Archebuzierilor), Carpenters’ Tower (Turnul Dulgherilor), Potters’ Tower (Turnul Olarilor) and Great Tower (Turnul Gros). Up we went to admire the views.
Since there isn’t much to see outside of the Old Town, we explored it further. On the north side of the Small Square you’ll spot a small cast iron bridge that connects the Upper and Lower Towns, called the Bridge of Lies. Legend has it that the bridge has ears, and for every lie you say it cracks a little. I never lie so I don’t know if it’s true. Well, that was a lie, but I didn’t say it while crossing the bridge! Don’t miss the impressive 14th century Lutheran Cathedral of Saint Mary that sits on Hayes Square. The organ inside is the biggest in Southeast Europe.
Romania is a culinary heaven, just like every other Balkan country. Coming from Serbia, I didn’t expect much from its cuisine. After all, we share the same history: both Romania and Serbia were partly under the Austro-Hungarian and partly under Ottoman rule. Nevertheless, I tried Sarmale, rolls of cabbage leaves stuffed with rice and meat. I discovered that in Romania they serve it with Polenta, a boiled cornmeal. It was delicious, just like everything else we tried at the fantastic Sibiul Vechi Restaurant. Another restaurant that offers great food in a place full of atmosphere is the famous Golden Barrel, Romania’s oldest restaurant.
The main reason we came to Romania was to visit beautiful historical cities and the off the beaten track Fortified Churches. These churches are scattered all around Transylvania. UNESCO’s included the most important ones in its World Heritage Sites list. Close to Sibiu there is a wonderful example: the 12th century Cisnadie Fortified Church. If you don’t go to Brasov or Sighisoara, the latter provides a great insight into Romania’s medieval heritage and authentic Transylvanian village life. We didn’t have time to go because we focused on churches around Sighisoara. If you happen to go, please let us know what you think.